Thursday, October 12, 2006

Of Both Worlds

It is fitting that this thought should cross my mind as I am airborne enroute to Istanbul, which to me is a genuine crossroad of civilizations.

Those who know me have heard many times my lamenting the plight of the emmigrant-type. You know…growing up as a child in one culture, then being transplanted (or rather transtumbled) into another, often with a period of "transition" ( i.e. war, repressions, harrowing escapes and sundry other occasions of enduring inhumanity). This means the soul lands with feet on planks of existence that are tectonically moving apart, or askew.

In Persia we/they call it "one rooftop but two skies".

The above is my segue, or actually anti-gue into the thought I was mentioning: I feel blessed about having grown up in a culture where from early on we were spoken to in parables and proverbs. We then learned more parables and proverbs as we ostensibly studied grammar and dictation, oration and comprehension. We also heard it from taxidrivers and grandmothers and the bums on the street in simile and saying form until it was second nature to be "a dead mouse" when scared, or "having grown a tail" when mischievous.

This is helpful in the following ways. First, it is thusly not boring to learn life lessons. For example, Be thankful for what you have was the lesson I remember leaning through one of Saadi's prose pieces in gradeschool farsi class; It talked about a ship and its owner and one of his "servants" (slaves, really, though we didn't address that issue) who was so afraid of the water he was in hysterics. The patron (master, ….) ordered him tossed into the sea to get a couple of gulps, then had him lassoed back onboard whereupon he became quite content. Unpolitically correct, I should admit, but memorable nevertheless.

Or on the virtues of doing good deeds we were told to "do good, throwing it in the river, so that god would return it to you in the middle of the desert".

Second, thusly these sayings get folk accustomed to looking for patterns at a young age, deriving meaning from seemingly unrelated events.

"The cat who couldn't reach the meat said 'it stinks' [meaning the meat, not the situation, though that would be another parable]"

"Whenever you grab a (live) fish from the water it is fresh"
Hearing statements like this gets the mind a fresh alternative universe whose patterns are similar but there is no exact correspondence. Cat is to you as the meat is to an unreachable item, as "it stinks" is to a shrug and a "pssha". However, you don't meow, the meat isn't what you are trying to touch,etc…

The blessed feeling also pertains to my opportunity of hours of lunchtime entertainment as I look at colleagues faces as I invoke or inaugurate such sayings, as I did at my best friend's wedding during my bestman toast. The parable was about trees growing roots and intertwining and shades and sunsets. It was a Persian Saying; I was Persian and I was saying it.

I will end on the random(er) note that I actually did say the last two sentences in my toast, and half the audience heard me say "I am virgin and I am saying…", and chalked the grammatical glitch to my foreignness.
ON to Istanbul, the land of virgins, parables, stinky meat and rooftops looking onto beautiful skies filled with seagulls and the sounds of the call to prayer.

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